One Texas Cowboy Too Many (Burnt Boot, Texas) (4 page)

BOOK: One Texas Cowboy Too Many (Burnt Boot, Texas)
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Rhett moved from one end of the bar to the other and waited for the jukebox to go quiet before he spoke. His drawl created a stirring deep inside her that she’d never even felt when Tanner was around. She was almost thirty, had taught for six years, and had had two serious relationships in her life.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

“Double shot of whiskey,” she answered.

He picked up the square Jack Daniel’s bottle. “So you ready for a ride on my cycle?”

“I’m not so sure that’s a smart thing for me to do,” she answered.

“When you figure out whether it is or not, you give me a call.” He reached across the bar and wrote his cell phone number on the palm of her hand. “Night or day, I’ll take you for a ride.”

The first guitar notes of Luke Bryan’s “Drunk on You” rattled out of the jukebox and people filled the dance floor. Leah shut her eyes and imagined riding that motorcycle, her arms around Rhett, her blond hair blowing behind her, and that song playing in her ears. The ache to do it rather than dream about it was so real that it brought tears to her eyes. She didn’t want to be the good child, but the mold had been set and she didn’t have a clue how to break free from it.

* * *

Luke’s song was stuck in his head until the bar closed that night. On the way home, he slipped the CD into the player in his truck and listened to the song twice more. Dammit met him at the door, but the two cats weren’t anywhere in sight. Jill and Sawyer’s bedroom door was shut. The cats had most likely deserted poor old Dammit to sleep on the foot of their bed.

“Come on, boy. I’m going to have a bath and soak this cigarette smoke off my hide. You can sit beside the tub and talk to me,” Rhett said.

Other than the fact that he didn’t have a shower in his bathroom, the setup in the house was perfect for privacy. A big center room with a kitchen toward the back took up more than half of the space. At one time, bunk beds had lined the walls and the place had probably been home to twenty men or more. Now, there was a big living area that was a perfect division between his part of the house and the newlyweds’ room.

“They’re not very good friends to desert you like this. But then they have to stay in the house all day and you get to go out and run around with me all day on the ranch.” He grinned. “You’re going to like Leah when you meet her. What’s that? What if she doesn’t like you?”

Dammit’s tail set up a thumping noise on the bare bathroom floor.

“No such chance. She’s going to fall in love with you before she ever even gives in and goes for a ride on my cycle. You are a real chick magnet.” Rhett laughed.

Chapter 3

Leah sat beside Quaid and Honey in church the next morning, but she didn’t hear a thing that the preacher said until he wound down his sermon and reminded them that the Sadie Hawkins Festival was on the calendar, like always, for the fourth Saturday in August.

“The festival will start with breakfast in the school cafeteria—all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage for only four dollars each for adults and two dollars for the kids. The money goes to the public school library this year to buy books. We’ll rope off two blocks of Main Street for the vendors and the carnival, and at three o’clock sharp, we’ll have the Sadie Hawkins race. Y’all should be learning to walk around in your bare feet the next couple of weeks, because there are no shoes or boots allowed in this race. And the committee is working on a new rule to add to the race, so be sure to read the fine print when you sign up for it,” he said.

Someone was staring at her, producing a crazy itchy feeling on her neck. The hair on her arms stood up, and she shivered so hard that Honey turned to look at her.

“Air-conditioning kicked on,” Leah said.

She let her eyes slide over to the Gallagher side of the church. Tanner’s eyes locked with hers, and she could feel the attraction drawing their souls together. It had been like that for years, but neither of them would ever take a step toward doing anything about it. He was a Gallagher. She was a Brennan. Case closed. Besides, he had quite the reputation for being a womanizer, and even if they could date, she wasn’t sure she would. And yet there was that thing that kept her wondering what it would be like.

Then she located Rhett, and his green eyes captured hers. He winked. Did that mean he was entering the Sadie Hawkins race? What would Granny Mavis say if Leah chased him down and brought him home?

She blinked and looked up at the preacher, who was telling them about the old-fashioned ice cream supper that would begin at five at the church and the fireworks that would end the day at dusk. Everyone was encouraged to bring a cake, a pie, or their favorite kind of homemade ice cream. She smiled as she imagined grabbing his ponytail to bring him down in the Sadie Hawkins race and then dragging him back to the ice cream social.

The race didn’t mean that the guy she caught had to marry her like it did in the comic strip from the fifties. It did mean that she had to take him to dinner after church on Sunday. Her head started spinning, thinking about a date with Rhett O’Donnell.

I need to go fishing and clear my mind
, she thought
. I’ve always been in love with Tanner, and now Rhett is in the picture. I had trouble handling one secret cowboy. Two is one cowboy too many.

Mavis grabbed her arm on the way out of the church and said, “I hear you were flirting with that wild cowboy that Gladys hired down at the bar last night.”

Leah set her mouth in a firm line. “Oh, really? Did the little bird that told you that also tell you that she got drunk and took a man home with her that she met last night?”

“I’m not talking to that little bird. I’m talking to you, Leah Brennan. I’ve got better things in mind for you than to get involved with a hired hand over on Fiddle Creek.”

“And what is that, Granny?” They moved down the aisle toward the door to shake the preacher’s hand before they went back to River Bend for a big family dinner.

“I’m grooming you to run River Bend,” Mavis whispered. “You’ve always known that you’re the kind of woman who will have to run the ranch when I’m gone.”

Leah draped an arm around Mavis’s shoulders. “Granny, darlin’, you are going to live to be a hundred. Besides, you’ve always told us that Saint Peter doesn’t want you and the devil is afraid of you, so there’s no way either party is going to let you die.”

Mavis laughed. “Don’t try to change the subject, Leah. I may be old, but I’m not stupid. I won’t have you ruining your life with that wild cowboy.”

“But it’s my life, Granny.”

“Yes, it is, but you live in my house.”

Leah bristled. “Is that an ultimatum?”

“It is what it is. I’ve never put any restrictions on you, but there’s no place for that drifter on River Bend, and if you take up with him, there won’t be a place for you either. So you better think long and hard about your decisions.”

“I’m almost thirty,” Leah said.

“And that’s old enough to know better.”

* * *

Leah changed from her church dress into a pair of cutoff jeans and her lucky T-shirt that fell down over her hips. She pulled her honey-blond ponytail through the hole in the back of a River Bend ball cap and stomped her bare feet down into her oldest cowboy boots. Stopping by the kitchen, she loaded a small cooler with bottled water, sandwiches, one bright red apple, and a six-pack of beer. With the cooler and her fishing gear tied securely to the back of a four-wheeler, she headed out to the river for a long afternoon of watching a red-and-white bobber dance on the gentle waves of the Red River.

In places, the north edge of River Bend property was next to the Red River, so all she had to do was open a gate, drive through it, close it, and then drive right to her favorite spot. That’s where the big weeping willow tree was close enough to the water that she could sit under the shade, toss her line out, and wait for a catfish or a bass to bite the bait. That day, she was fishing with chunks of fake crabmeat that Gladys sold down at the general store.

She parked a few feet away and carried her cooler in one hand and her rod and reel in the other. When she parted the limbs to slip into the shade, there was Rhett O’Donnell under her shade tree, wearing cutoff jeans with a ragged edge about knee level, old scuffed-up boots, and a tank top that should have been tossed in the ragbag a year ago. Several hooks and lures were stuck into a straw hat that covered his eyes and he was smiling up at her.

She dropped her things a few feet from him and said, “This is my fishin’ spot. You need to find another one.” She’d go back to the four-wheeler for her tackle box and bait, but first she had to make him move either up or down the river. That shade tree belonged to her.

Rhett pushed his hat to the back of his head. “You’re from River Bend, right?”

She nodded.

“If you will notice, ma’am, this willow tree is right below Fiddle Creek property and a good fifty yards from the River Bend property line. And I do not see a ‘Do Not Trespass’ sign hanging in this tree or a deed to it in your name either. Bein’ as how I am a gentleman and I wouldn’t mind havin’ a fishin’ partner this afternoon, I will share this tree with you, but I will not leave it.”

God works in mysterious ways
, she thought as she whipped around and went back for the rest of her gear.

“They ain’t bitin’ right now, but that’s not to say they won’t later on,” he said when she set the tackle box down and opened it. “What are you usin’ for bait?”

“Fake crabmeat from the general store,” she said.

“I’m usin’ grasshoppers. There’s plenty of them in the jar over there. If you run out of bait, help yourself,” he said. “I never pictured you for a fisherman or fisherwoman. Which one is it?”

“Fisher person, I suppose,” she said.

She had intended to ignore him completely, not carry on a conversation with him.

“You do much fishin’?” he asked.

“If I don’t have papers to grade on Sunday afternoon. There’s not many more weekends between now and the time school starts back, so I won’t get to fish much more this summer.” She bit the inside of her lip to keep from asking him how often he went fishing.

He tipped his hat over his eyes and leaned back against a rock. After several minutes, she wished he’d say something else, anything but sit there with his eyes closed and the fishing rod in his hands. She baited her hook and threw out the line, letting it land downstream from his bobber. Could he really be sleeping? If that were the case, she sure didn’t affect him like he did her, because there was no way she could sleep that close to him.

She glanced over at him, taking in his muscular calves and the fine, dark hair peeking out from the top of his shirt. If she were as brazen as Betsy Gallagher, she’d have reached across the distance and ran her hand up under his shirt to see if the hair was as soft as it looked.

And you’d bring back a wet hand from all the sweat. Take a look at his face, woman. That’s not ice water dripping down his cheeks.

She wiped away the droplets under her nose on the tail of her shirt and braced her back against the trunk of the big willow tree. Was fate trying to tell her to let go of her childish crush on Tanner Gallagher by putting Rhett in her path? She mulled that over as she watched the bobber float down the Red River until her line was taut.

* * *

Rhett was not asleep, and he could feel the moment her eyes settled on him and the very second that she shifted her gaze to the river. Evidently, she didn’t want to talk because she didn’t ask him any questions, so he’d made it easy for her by pretending to be asleep.

The fish were not biting that day. It was too damn hot. The catfish were down on the bottom of the river, where it was a little cooler, and the bass where most likely keeping them company. Finally, thirst got the best of him, so he sat up, pulled a longneck bottle of beer from his cooler, and twisted the lid off. He touched her on the arm with it and she jumped like she’d been shot.

“Want one?” he asked.

She reached for it. “Thank you. It’s too hot for them to bite, isn’t it?”

“Yep,” he said.

He took out another bottle, removed the lid, and turned it up, downing a third of it before he came up for air. A blur appeared to his right, and before he could turn his head, Dammit had licked him right up across the face. He chuckled and grabbed the dog by its big, floppy ears.

“How’d you find me, old boy? That was some fine tracking and you deserve a drink for it.” He held the beer bottle up and the dog gulped several times, then burped loudly.

“There’s a lady here,” Rhett whispered.

The dog fell down at Leah’s feet, rolled his big brown eyes up at her, and wagged his tail.

“He says he’s sorry and to please excuse him,” Rhett said.

She smiled and scratched his head. “Beer does that. You are forgiven. I guess this is Dammit?”

Leah was finally talking to him. The dog would get a beer of his own plus two treats when they got home that evening for making that happen.

“Yes, I’m sorry. I should have introduced y’all. Dammit, this is Leah. Leah, Dammit,” he said.

“What about when the preacher comes to dinner? What’s his name then?” Leah asked.

“Then his name is Holy Dammit.”

She laughed.

Maybe the dog would even earn a spot at the foot of Rhett’s bed that night.

Rhett stretched out his hand to pet the dog and deliberately let his knuckles make contact with hers. That little spark he’d felt in the store the first day and at the bar when he’d slid her drink to her was still there. It didn’t matter if she was Brennan, Gallagher, or Jones, Rhett was damn sure interested in any woman who caused that kind of reaction.

He pulled his hand back and let her get to know Dammit while he finished his beer. “It gets hot in Comfort, Texas, but I don’t think it gets this hot.”

“It’s the humidity coming off the river. So, did you and Sawyer grow up close together?” she asked.

“Not on the same ranch but in the same area. We went to school together, right along with Finn. You’ve met Finn, right? He bought a ranch here in Burnt Boot and wound up married to a lady he was in the service with.”

“Of course, I know him, and I know he’s Sawyer’s cousin. I really like his wife, Callie.” She hesitated. “And those kids of theirs are adorable.”

“And Verdie?”

Leah smiled. “Everyone loves Verdie. I’m glad that she moved back to Burnt Boot and is living on the ranch with Finn and Callie. They need her and she sure needs them. Things tend to work on the right way and they sure did in that instance.”

Dammit wiggled his way close enough that he could lay his head on Leah’s lap. He closed his eyes but his tail kept going, sweeping an arc in the sand that looked like half a set of angel wings. She jammed the handle of her fishing rod down into the sand and kept petting him while she fished around in her cooler for a sandwich.

She offered one to Rhett, and he took it without hesitation.

“Thank you. I didn’t think to bring snacks.”

“So, all three of you O’Donnells grew up in the same area?” Leah asked.

Rhett talked between bites. “Pretty much. We were usually together on Sundays after church. Probably not a lot different setup than you and your family.”

Leah reached across Dammit and took the apple from the cooler. She’d only brought one, but he’d shared his beer with her, so she felt like she should at least offer. She bit off a hunk and handed it to him.

“This looks ominous, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Didn’t Eve feed Adam an apple and then they had to make clothes out of fig leaves? These weeping willow leaves are pretty small.” He grinned.

In a whoosh, her cheeks were on fire, but not as much as her fingertips when he held her hand in his and bit right next to where she had. She hoped he couldn’t see the tremble in her hand as she finished the apple and threw the core out into the river. An instant splash said that a big fish had snagged it.

“They’re too smart for me today,” she said as she pulled her rod out of the sand. She reeled in the line, removed the soggy bait, and fed it to the dog. She carefully wound the hook and line around the rod and stuck the tip in the cork handle.

“You leaving?” Rhett asked.

“Not yet, but they aren’t bitin’ today. Did you come from a big family?”

Rhett followed her lead and brought his line in also. Dammit wasn’t a bit interested in a soggy grasshopper, so Rhett tossed it back out on the water. Before he could get the line wound around the rod, a splash out in the river said that a fish had eaten the free food again.

“Dammit!” Rhett said.

The dog rose up and cocked his head to one side.

“Not you. That smart-ass fish,” Rhett said.

BOOK: One Texas Cowboy Too Many (Burnt Boot, Texas)
13.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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